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Comfortable themes fill debate

Gubernatorial candidates set civil tone in multi-party forum

By Ashley H. Grant

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Smack in the middle of a fast-moving legislative session, leaders of the House and Senate joined in the first multi-party gubernatorial debate of 2002.

In all, four of the six serious contenders made it to the debate, giving the crowd of several hundred business people an early feel for their views and style.

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Comfortable themes -- taxes, health care, transportation and education -- and civil tones ruled.

But it's unlikely things will stay that way in the competitive race to succeed Gov. Jesse Ventura, who hasn't said whether he'll seek another term.

Everyone in the debate agreed transportation projects had been underfunded in recent years.

Just a day earlier, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe helped outline a Senate DFL plan to raise $7.5 billion over the next 10 years for transportation through increased vehicle registration fees, increased gas taxes and other measures.

He said it's impossible to build better roads and bridges and improve transit without a huge infusion of money.

"We might as well admit it to ourselves," said Moe, a Democrat.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty said a better transportation infrastructure would build the economy and help people spend more time with family.

"Now, the question is simply how," said Pawlenty, a Republican.

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He blamed a slow-moving state Department of Transportation for part of the problem.

If he's elected, he said he'd send his running mate, Rep. Carol Molnau, now chairwoman of the House Transportation Finance Committee, to speed things up.

Pawlenty called her "a one-woman SWAT team."

Businessman Brian Sullivan, a Republican from Orono, said the state should rely more on long-term financing for transportation projects, instead of spending cash up front.

On education, the two GOP candidates said if they were elected, they would work to dismantle the Profile of Learning graduation standards, which emphasizes student projects.

They want more regular tests and a basic curriculum.

Moe and Sen. Becky Lourey, a DFLer from Kerrick, have worked in past years to keep the profile intact.

"I have 127 years' worth of children in public schools. ... I have a little experience with public schools," said Lourey, who raised 12 children.

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She said children should be assessed earlier for problems like autism.

That, she said, would help them later on.

The two Republicans lined up against tax increases, while the Democrates said they were inevitable to balance future budgets.

"We've taken all of the low-hanging fruit. ... We're going to have to raise taxes," Moe said.

Sullivan said a projected budget shortfall could be solved without new taxes.

"In my administration, we will not raise taxes," Sullivan said, adding that government simply needed to "squeeze more value out of a dollar."

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